What NOT to say!


This is something I have wanted to post about for a while now.  It is a tough topic and my intention is not to hurt anyone.  Please note that this post comes from years of frustrations and is written with the sole purpose of sharing what I have felt and what I have subsequently learnt NOT to say to someone suffering a non-curable condition.  Although not life threatening, infertility can be grouped with the likes of cancer or even HIV in the one sense that it too has no cure.  Infertility is a lifelong condition that has been called a disease – with no cure, it just gets worse as the years go by.  What is important is how we respond to someone who tells us of their struggle with a non-curable medical condition.

I have heard all the “platitudes” you can imagine and they STILL drive me crazy.  Don’t think me harsh, I totally understand that most people haven’t a clue how to respond and will sometimes say anything to make the situation better or more comfortable.  I understand this, but it still grates me to hear the silly and thoughtless suggestions people offer up.  Right now, I have just come back to my office from getting a cuppa where a colleague told me of a cousin of hers who battled to fall pregnant for years and only after she adopted a child did she suddenly fall pregnant and she then fell pregnant again a year later (with twins no less!). “Watch out” she said “it could happen to you”.  “Yes” I thought “adopting is the miracle cure to my myriad of infertility disorders!!!”  Instead, I simply smiled and responded, “What a blessing for her, that doesn’t happen often”. 

The truth is it seems like these miracles are always happening.  I am told FAR too often of such stories.  I can only think that good news travels fast and that these are the stories people like to hear, to remember and to pass on. 

Some of the other typical responses I get are “It will happen when…”

  1. …you stop trying
  2. …take a holiday
  3. …go to the mountains (we live in the mountains so you can imagine my response to this one)
  4. …go to the tropics
  5. …you least expect it

I am also told repeatedly of couples who tried for X number of years – oh great, I think, so my trying for 4 years is nothing, I could keep going like this for 10 years before we get it right?!  Yeah, that’s a huge help!  I had such a revelation a couple of month ago.  I was chatting to a lady who had been trying to conceive for 1 year to fall pregnant, they had just started down the IVF path and she seemed so nervous and worried about everything.  I then also spoke to a lady who had been trying for 18 years and she seemed almost blasé about it all.  It then hit me, we might sympathise with someone who has tried for YEARS to conceive, but the lady who has tried for only a year may just need an extra bit of love and support.  Looking back on my own journey, those first 2 years were the toughest.  Month by month you realise that it isn’t happening, you wonder what is wrong with you and you slowly learn the agonizing truth of what your infertility issues are.  Once you have passed the first couple of years, it does in a sense become easier, mostly because you harden yourself to your condition and you force yourself to cope.  You now don’t necessarily wait on EVERY monthly cycle for that miracle to happen, maybe every other month but not so much every month now.  That’s just something to think about when chatting to folk who have just started their journey down the road of infertility.

I’ve also been told to have more faith and let God provide – whaat?!  This one hurts.  Immediately my defences go up, “who are they to judge my faith” and “how do they know what route God will choose to provide us with a child”.  Another response is “God WILL provide” or “Don’t doubt God to give you this”.  Although meant to encourage us, this really gets to me as Christian – who are we to assume God’s plans for us?  PERHAPS, just perhaps, he doesn’t have children in His plan for our future.  I believe God works in many, many ways to provide children to couples.  Take, for example, those miracle stories mentioned above, I don’t believe that pregnancies resulted because that couple adopted or because another couple took time-off from trying.  I believe that it all boils down to God’s timing and what His plans are for each couple.  It depends where he wants His glory to be revealed, it may be in modern medicine, or it may be during a time of quiet.  Those are His miracle stories and they should not be applied to ALL couples trying to conceive.

For the most part, these responses come from people who are not familiar with infertility and the struggles therein.  But I did have a shocking moment a few months ago.  I was speaking to a lady who had also battled infertility and then had success with the surrogacy route and had twin boys as a result.  I told her of our miracle of my uterus now being healed enough for us to try IVF and her response was “Oh you’re lucky!”  “Lucky???” I thought.  I swear my jaw was hanging on the floor.  It may seem an innocent enough response but for someone in the infertility sisterhood this is not a good response.  Here she was with twins and she tells me, who is still battling infertility, that I am lucky?!  Sure, I might be blessed by the possibility now of being able to carry my own child in pregnancy, but I still have to GET pregnant; I still have endometriosis, I still have a bicornuate uterus, I still have luteal phase defect, I still have the issue of not being able to maintain a pregnancy, I am STILL WITHOUT CHILD!  I was shocked.  An appropriate response from her would have been more like “That is good news” or “I’m so happy for you” or “Wow, God be praised”.  Lucky my foot!

NOTHING can be said to make infertility better or easier. 

Now that I have sufficiently vented my “platitude” frustrations, what should one say in response to infertility or any other condition that someone might tell you that they have? It’s easy really; just 3 key words take centre stage: “sorry”, “praying” and “thoughts”.  To string them together for you, you could use lines like:

  • “Gosh, I am sorry”
  • “You are so in our thoughts and prayers”
  • “We’re praying for you”
  • “I’m thinking of you”. 

And that is all it takes to help that person feel your love and respect; that really is all that is needed.


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